Religious Participation and Religious Liberty

September 9, 2015

My colleagues at FRC's Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) have spent years documenting, copiously and irrefutably, that religious practice benefits families and children. As MARRI argues, "the intact married family that worships weekly is the greatest generator of human and social positive outcomes and thus it is the core strength of the United States and of all other countries where the data are available."

Strong, two-parent families mean higher educational attainment and emotional health for children, greater income, less crime, and a host of other benefits. Those families that do best are the ones that attend a religious service together at least once a week. But essential to such worship and, thus, to the benefits that correlate with it, is another factor.

That would be religious liberty. Not just the right to attend a religious service at a given building unimpeded by the law. Not just private devotions in the four walls of one's home. Not just "freedom of religion" in the sense that people can believe, in their minds, what they choose as long as they are silent about it.

Religious liberty in its fullness means not only the ability to believe what one chooses but the right to live out one's convictions at work, in the neighborhood, and in all facets of one's life.

Religious liberty is grounded in the belief that God is the Author of our rights, and that government is merely their protector. This is what the Declaration of Independence asserts and is the very foundation of our philosophy of government and entire way of life. Unless God has granted us our rights, they are the arbitrary bestowals of a government which can diminish or even remove those rights at will.

The threats to religious liberty in our country are real. There are steady efforts to encroach upon it, attempts to chip-away at the right to live out one's faith such that gradually, religious liberty itself will crumble from incremental erosion (see FRC's "Free to Believe" webpage for myriad examples of this).

Participation in religious worship and related activities makes a tremendous difference in family life and, thereby, the well-being of our culture. But if religious liberty in its truest sense is lost, will the incentive for participation in formal religious services remain as strong as it is now? Although many Americans will continue such participation if the practice of their faith is hemmed-in by anti-religious laws and rules, repression of religious liberty will render their lives less whole, less happy, and less American.